Our next portion is called “Korach” (Korah) and it goes from Num 16.1 to 18.22. This portion is called “The Machloket (controversy) of Korach.” He is the cousin of Moses and Aaron and this portion is also called “The Great Mutiny.” Korah (baldness) was a Levite, and Dathan (law), Abiram (my father is exalted) and On (vigor) were from Reuben, the eldest tribe. They also joined Korah in this mutiny.
The combination of these people will fuel a mutiny, but there will be two separate issues. Our walk will include these issues. This will be a test of Moses and Aaron and their leadership in a conflict. There will be times of action and a time to be silent. The true test of leadership is how we deal with conflict, especially in a congregational setting.
Not everyone will be happy. Some will like something, while others will not. There are two main mistakes a person can make when in the Marines. You could go AWOL (away without official leave) or you could be involved in a mutiny. Mutiny carried the death penalty and it inspires others to follow. Mutiny is what Korah does against Aaron. He wants to replace Aaron as High Priest. Dathan and Abiram just refuse to obey, they balk and will not cooperate. Korah wanted to do priestly duties when that was not his role.
Conflicts are a drama and each person involved has a role. Every drama will have a villain, the one causing the harm. Then you will have a hero, the one who will right the wrong and finally you have the victims. You can see how these roles were assigned by Korah. We don’t know how this conflict started. Tradition says the arguments were over the tzitzit. Korah said, If your whole garment is blue, why do you need a blue thread in your tzitzit?” He also argued over the mezuzah saying, “If the houses are full of Torahs, why have one on the door?” He also said that Aaron was in it for gain and questioned his motives. Now, this is only tradition so it can’t be on the same level as the Scriptures, but we know Korah was displeased with God’s choices.
This made Aaron the “villain” in the mind of Korah. No matter what the villain does well, it won’t matter It will be dismissed. Values are “assigned” according to what role is assigned. As the “game” goes, people seem to do irrational things. People start to believe their role so they cooperate. On the other hand, if they don’t cooperate, they are seen as “irrational.” Korah wanted to discredit Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron didn’t choose to be leaders, God chose them. But Korah said they put themselves forward to be leaders.
We have all seen this in a congregation, or even a Bible Study. Someone feels like they should be the leader and that the current leader “takes too much on for himself.” Then they try to impugn their motives. In an employer/employee setting evaluations like this might be appropriate, but in a spiritual setting of leadership a person should be truly called by God and is not “hired” as an employee. They are anointed by the Lord to do what they do. If a person rises up against that leader, they are rising up against Yehovah, not the leadership of that congregation or group. A “hireling” will fight for his livelihood (gets paid), but the one called by God will look for his defense from the Lord. So, there are two defensive postures. Moses and Aaron did the second the one.
The relationship between leaders and their people should be like this. First, always listen. If the nature of the complaint is disloyalty, drastic action should be taken against the mutiny. Korah recruited 250 Levite princes against Moses, and these were men of renown (16.2). We know that Moses and Aaron were not perfect men. We just went over how Moses sent the twelve scouts into the land, and Aaron blundered at the Golden Calf incident, and lost two of his sons. Nobody is perfect, but Korah resented them anyway.
How could Korah have dealt with this? If he had a question about something that Moses and Aaron had done, he could have gone to them as a brother, with respect. There may be things happening that he didn’t know about. Korah may have done the same thing in their shoes. If his purpose is just to attack using lies, innuendo and rumors as his ammo, then he is the one in trouble. It’s the same with us. We do not want to be like Korah.
In the case of Dathan and Abiram, they refuse the request of Moses to come (16.12). They want to go back to Egypt (16.12-14). Moses is angry (16.15) and he goes to the Lord. Mutinous behavior carries the death penalty, and going back to Egypt meant death. When we are mutinous, we choose death. So, Yehovah is going to settle this once and for all (16.16-35). If the Lord has appointed Moses and Aaron, then he will respond to help them because they sought refuge in him. It is the same with us. If the Lord has appointed us to do something, he will respond to defend us. A congregation that pays its leaders has a right to ask questions, but that leader will get defensive because his livelihood depends on the people. He is an employee of that congregation and should be evaluated. He works for them.
But in the case of Moses and Aaron, they work for the Lord and he placed them there. Action is required in the case of a mutiny, and the Lord does respond in Num 16.20-40. If the Lord does not respond, then the mutiny would have spread. Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their households, and all the men that belonged to Korah perished when the earth opened up and swallowed them (16.20-30). Then fire came down and consumed the 250 men who were burning incense (16.35).
In Num 16.41 the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of getting the Lord to do their dirty work for them. Num 16.42-48 are significant verses. It came about that when the congregation assembled the next day, a cloud covered the Ohel Moed (tent of meeting) and the kivod (glory) of God appeared. The Lord was going to consume the congregation instantly, but Moses and Aaron interceded for them. They did not write them off no matter how they have been behaving. They took the censor of Aaron and put fire from the altar and incense in it and made atonement (means “to restore a covering”) for the people. The incense provided a “screen” for the people. A plague had gone forth and Aaron stood between the dead and the living (an idiom for judgment-1 Chr 21.16; 2 Sam 18.9; Zech 5.9; Ezek 8.3), and the plague was stopped (16.42-48). However, 14,700 people had died already, besides those who died because of Korah. To “provide a screen or covering” for the people is the idea behind Yom Kippur (Lev 16).
Moses has shown Israel to never turn with contempt toward the Lord, or the Mishkan/Temple. Korah’s mutiny caused Israel to turn with contempt towards towards the Mishkan because that was where Moses and Aaron were. The Lord will give us room to complain, but we are never to turn to the Lord with contempt about who he chooses, or how he does things. These passages, especially from Num 16.43-48 is connected to Rev 8.3-5; Lev 16.12 and Ezek 9.1-11.
Do these verses have an application today? Yes, they do. The Temple service will begin soon. God has chosen Israel and the priests to serve him there. The average Christian leader and believer that will see this happen will see the sons of Aaron being set apart for Temple service. They must not be contemptuous towards this by saying, “The Lord has replaced them with the Church!” But this what will happen. They will commit the sin of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. They will criticize these priests and the Temple. They will say they are illegitimate before God. They will say, “We are the true ministers of God and these Jews are just doing it for personal gain.”
They will blaspheme the altar, the Temple, the priests, the vessels used and the kornanot. The concept of “holiness” is called “kedusha.” We have given this definition in other teachings. A good source for the proper understanding of kedusha/holiness, we recommend the book “The Temple” by Joshua Berman. Blasphemy is taking what God said had a kedusha (Temple, priests, the vessels, korbanot/offerings) and turning it into something without a kedusha. It is also taking something without a kedusha (the Church, their ministers, their instruments of worship, no korbanot/offerings) into something with a kedusha. They will speak against the Temple.
They will be “theologically” opposed to the Temple, the priesthood and the korbanot/offerings on the grounds that “it’s an offense against the one, true and final sacrifice of ‘Jesus’, and they are trampling on his blood. All that has been done away with.” This is a flawed theology. The Temple system is separate and distinct from the death of Yeshua. The Temple, the priesthood and the services were established by God himself. Believers in the First Century knew this and went to the Temple daily (Acts 2.46). They went to the Tamid service where a lamb was offered twice daily (Acts 3.1) and they offered animal offerings nearly 30 years after Yeshua (Acts 21.23-26, 24.17).
What we have gone over in Num 16.1-50 will happen again. Religious people will repeat this mutiny and present themselves in a contemptuous manner before the Lord, and it will be for the same reasons we have seen here. These actions will result in the judgments seen during the Birth-pains (1 Cor 10.1-13).
In Part 18 we will pick up here.